Young Gambian women are raising the bar at the University of The Gambia (UTG) and serving as inspiration for younger crop of women. This is despite entrenched cultural and social challenges and at times barriers.
On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, we profile three of UTG’s young female academics who are making their marks and building good reputations for themselves.
Nyimasata, born and raised in Kiang Kolior in Lower River Region, attended Nusrat High School and then UTG where she bagged a Bachelors degree in Political Science. She acquired Master’s degree from Ankara University in Turkey. Since 2012, she’s been employed at the University of The Gambia first as an administrative assistant and now as a political science lecturer.
Nyimasata is a first generation university graduate in her family. In her rise to academic stardom, she battled challenges stemming from her family’s economic needs and a cultural belief in her community.
“Initially, it was not quite easy to break barriers. Although I had the greatest support from the closest people in my life, such as my mother, older brother and late my grandmother, there were instances when I was encouraged or even pressured by other family members to short-circuit my education in order that I could, within a short span of time, gain employment and support my extended family or to choose marriage and raise a family over the pursuit of learning. This has not ceased up to this point.”
When Nyimasata beat the odds and decided to look into academia for career, she struggled to find role models to build herself around. “My biggest challenge had to do with the absence of adequate female role models in my field who are accessible and could provide guidance and mentorship as all emerging scholars would need. The good news though is that, even with the absence of such opportunities for mentorship, those of us young scholars in the social sciences especially continue to stand in solidarity with one another and lift each other up in our individual journeys,” she says.
More than five years down the line, Nyimasata has become a favourite lecturer at the UTG. Among the greatest highlights of her academic career so far is the research fellowship award she received from the Social Science Research Council- Africa Peacebuilding Network to work on a 2-year “No War No Peace” project in Southern Senegal’s Casamance region, under the leadership of Mame Penda Ba of University of Gaston Berger, Senegal.
This project was preceded by another important research Nyimasata and her colleagues did last year for Afrobarometer, a Pan-African research organization. “Research is the backbone of every academic institution, thus this sort of experiences help to enhance our skills, enrich our experiences and allow us to independently contribute to knowledge production.”
Looking forward, Nyimasata’s short term goal is to obtain a PhD.
“My survival in the academia is dependent on it. But in the long term, I hope to distinguish myself as a thoughtful leader with authority, leading the most relevant researches in my field.”
Now that she’s seen as a role model for younger women, her advice to them is that “they should endeavor to defy all obstacles and distractions and aim to reach their highest potential; learn about themselves, reclaim their voice and use it.”
This, according to her, is the ultimate form of empowerment.
Another young woman flying the flag high at the University of The Gambia is Bintou Dibba, a lecturer of biological sciences in the Department of Physical and Natural Sciences.
Bintou obtained a Higher Teachers Certificate at the Gambia College, School of Education in 1999, a Bachelors degree in biology at the university of the Gambia in 2005 and a Masters degree in Marine Science and Resource Management with a major in Aquaculture in Taiwan in 2011. She also earned a Masters degree in Sectoral Analysis and Management in Education System in 2019.
She had worked as a Principal Science and Technology officer up to 2014 at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology before joining academia as a lecturer at UTG in September 2014.
The biggest highlight of Bintou’s career so far has been the ability to mentor, guide and counsel students, especially female students who share their most personal experience with her for counseling and mentorship.
Like Nyimasata, Bintou’s short term ambition is to obtain a PhD to enable her to lecture, mentor and supervise students at post graduate levels in the Gambia.
“This will reduce the number of Gambians seeking post graduate studies abroad. My long term ambition is to serve as a role model for more women to study science and take up science-related careers in the country. I aim to continue to encourage and give support to more women to achieve their dreams when necessary.”
With her success story and personal accomplishments, Bintou now encourages girls to venture into academia as an important step to increase diversity in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Of course it’s not an easy job but it’s very interesting because in academia you will have the opportunity to prepare students especially women to succeed in today’s workplaces. This will decrease dependency ratios and increase their income to be able to lift families out of cycle of poverty.”
Safiatou Drammeh Gitteh
Safiatou was a Graduate Assistant in the Development Studies Unit of The University of The Gambia since 2013. She earned a Masters degree in International Development Studies from Mendel University in Czech Republic. She’s been lecturing for almost two years now at UTG.
In her academic path, she faced series of challenges mostly stemming from perceptions about women’s ability or inability as informed by the society.
“However, because I usually move above those expectations, I end up with not many challenges. But I do still do hear comments like “you do not need a PhD because you are a woman and Masters Degree is enough.”
As a lecturer, Safiatou does not experience any gender-based challenges at the university, though she recognizes general challenges like poor teacher student ratio in her Unit – many students but few lecturers.
The biggest highlight of her career is the publication of her book; “The Opportunities and Barriers in the Education of Women in The Gambia.”
Safiatou’s long term goal is to be more active in developmental researches on The Gambia “in order to bring about the change we desire through research.”
And her advice to young girls is for them to be vigilant, to focus on what is important at what time. “There is a whole life ahead to enjoy but there is time to study and to make positive impact on society. Nothing should deter them from achieving their goals!”